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Hospital Births are Crash Landings

July 9, 2011

Be Prepared

Hospital Births are Crash Landings – Phillip White

Is your primary care an OB/GYN?  Then expect surgery.  OB/GYNs are surgical doctors trained to save babies through the use of their surgical skills.  Write that into your birth plan; insist!  Today one in three women will have their babies by surgery, whether it is necessary or not.  It is best to expect the unexpected, so that you are prepared for reality.  If you are not prepared, not expecting a surgery,  then you will be negatively impacted. Surgical birth that is unexpected is an unnatural, trauma producing event compared to a vaginal birth.

Psychologically the effects of an unplanned surgical procedure can negatively affect your developing family, much worse than you want to know.  So having this attitude that surgery is highly possible, at least, will open your mind to what to do and how to act after you leave the hospital.

First of all surgery itself is a human experience that has been documented to be “among the most psychologically important and potentially disturbing of all life’s events.” (Alberts, 1989)  Unfortunately, since C-sections are the most prevalent surgery done in hospitals, medical staff rarely point out the significant psychological and physical effects of the procedure, compared with other major abdominal surgical procedures.  “While it is accepted among surgeons that depression is a common consequence of major surgery, the same assumptions are not made about a cesarean section.  Many of the psychological consequences of surgery in general apply also to cesarean section; including a temporary response of emotional relief and elation at surviving the operation, worry about the mutilating effects of the operation on the body, and a long, drawn-out period of physical and psychological discomfort.  It is worth noting that the kinds of demands that the care of a newborn may make involve activities that are likely to be forbidden to any patient on a surgical ward for days or even weeks after abdominal surgery  (Oakley, 1983).”  Men need to be ready to make up the slack, as their partners will not be capable of handling much at home for several weeks, and you must make sure they don’t overdo it, for they will.

It appears that the prevalence of cesarean-section operations desensitize health care providers to the point where they lack understanding and empathy for childbearing women.  Birth technology has dehumanized birth.   The hospital staff may not even verbally mention the risks associated with such a surgery – but, of course, they will have you sign all the legally binding papers if the procedure is used.

It is noteworthy that most couples may hear about these surgeries and be aware of the high rates of the use of this procedure prior to their delivery, but few are mentally prepared to accept that they will be the ones enduring it.  So the combination of this avoidance by birthing couples and the lack of sensitivity shown by hospital practioners can affectively set people up for very bad experiences.

Major abdominal surgery is a serious procedure, with even with the risk of maternal death (2 to 4 times that of natural childbirth).  It is not a picnic, regardless of how many women are receiving this yearly.  An author (Mutryn, 1993)  of one article put it as follows:  This existing research and the perspectives of caregivers involved with cesarean families highlight cesarean section as a surgical procedure with negative physical and psychological consequences for the mother, negative psychological consequences for the father, and negative physical and psychological for the infant/child.

Some Familiar Consequences of Surgery for mom (Mutryn, 1993)

  • Less frequent mother handling of infant during postpartum (after birth)
  • Significant difference in ability to take care of the baby one month after the birth
  • Decrease in positive maternal reaction at first meeting with child
  • More trouble breastfeeding
  • Higher incidence of psychosomatic symptoms during first years
  • Less eye contact between mom with her baby
  • Guilt about not being able to care for child in early days after birth
  • More problems and difficulties with babies up to three years later

Another article (Soet, Brack, & DiIorio, 2003)studying women who had delivered their children through cesarean section showed that 76% of these women met the criterion (DSM IV) for having suffered a traumatic event, and 6 percent had meet enough criteria to be considered to having post traumatic stress disorder.

So why would you as a guy want to be prepared for this event and how can that effect you?  Simply put, surgery happens, and the effects are minimized if you prepare for it.  It amazes me that there is so little research done about this topic; with over 1 million fathers out there a year experiencing the effects of having their partner’s traumatized, you would think this deserves attention.   I went through a very stressful cesarean delivery and an equally stressful (1st) vbac with my wife.  So for me men should look at birth in the hospital as if they were looking at their partner having an operation on the liver, gall bladder, or pancreas.  If that’s not stressful enough for you, then think about having to take care of the baby and your partner’s recovery  afterwards.

Guys come off those clouds and look at this realistically, if you don’t you will be more negatively impacted emotionally as well.  For me it was like having a car crash, and though everyone survived, you are in the hospital longer, and you end up going home where you are having to do all the cooking, cleaning, baby care, etc.  You’re taken home a woman who is more likely to be upset, possible angry, and it ain’t fun.  No it is work for sure when they have had any major surgery, but the deflation of a woman’s expectation of having that beautiful birth experience can be highly discouraging, demoralizing and there is nothing much you can do.  Even worse is how women treat guys after feeling they failed to have their dream birth – they will (most often) take it out on you for you are the closest target.

When you count out surgery, you are setting yourself up for chain reaction of problems.  First, a long labor and the stress of the emergency wipe you out.  You may feel frustrated with the medical staff, and they can become defensive if you begin questioning them on why things happened the way they did.  Then you have to change your plans for when you will return home.  You have to delay going back to work.  The sense of sanity goes right out the window for many couples.  That’s why I tell you to expect the surgery, so you will be ready.

Take the aircraft carriers and how they handle landing those fighters on those short decks.  They are prepared each time for something to go wrong.  Each landing is a disaster waiting to occur, and they have all the equipment and supplies ready for immediate deployment.  If they didn’t have that mentality, then when a plane landed and wrecked on deck, they would be traumatized.

Unfortunately that’s the way birth is handled in the hospital, but instead of having one in 10,000 landing going well, the hospitals have 32 percent crashes.  That’s why they are not sensitized to the process, and why they don’t seem to care about the feelings of the parents.  To them childbirth is an accident they can control.  That is the status quo.

If you want to eliminate the probability of surgical birth for you partner, then you’ll have to look at alternative birth environments, health care providers, and philosophies.  There are a couple hundred free standing birth centers in the United States.  Home births, usually with midwives,  only number up to 40,000 each year.  Some doctors who are not OB/GYNs will deliver babies.  These are the only other options out there.  After experiencing the drama, the challenge and the highly impersonal experience of childbirth in hospitals, my wife and I had two other children in alternative environments, and that is the main reason I wrote Men at Birth for  guys.

Lastly, you should know that if a woman has a poor experience in childbirth that her desire to have other children can be impacted.  That goes for cesarean sections, vacuum extraction, highly pain births, stillborns, and all other forms of unnatural health problems for mother and baby.  Women may shut down sexually as well.  On the other hand, some women turn around and want another baby as soon as possible.  They may go into a frenzy of study and research to hopefully find a better place and better results.  It’s like a Pandora’s box.

Works Cited

Alberts, M. (1989). Psychological interventions in pre-surgical period. International Journal of Psychiatry, 19, 91.

Mutryn, C. (1993). Psychosocial Impact of Cesarean Section on the Family: A Literture Review. Social Science Medicine, 1271-1281.

Oakley, A. (1983). Social Consequences of obstetric technology: the importance of measuring soft outcomes. Birth, 10, 99-108.

Soet, J., Brack, G., & DiIorio, C. (2003). Pravalence and Predictors of Women’s Experience of Psychological Tauma During Childbirth. Birth, 30(1), 36-46.

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